• Anyone else want to learn another easy way to classify chords?

    in Theory

    Most people just classify chords by name and chord quality (major vs minor, augmented vs diminished).

    But today, I want to show you another world. Here’s how to think of chords by the number of notes they contain.

    This will be short and to the point.



    Music theorists still argue over whether a chord officially starts with 2 or 3 tones played at the same time. It seems like 3 is more accepted. But for the sake of knowing, I’ll give you the name of a two-note combination at the end of this post.

    But, for now, let’s start with the popular “triad.”

    Any time you have a collection of three notes played together, you’re playing a triad.

    Most basic chords fall under this category.

    • major triad (e.g. – C major: C + E + G)
    • minor triad (e.g. – C minor: C + Eb + G)
    • diminished triad (e.g. – C diminished: C + Eb + Gb)
    • augmented triad (e.g. – C augmented: C + E + G#)

    So any time you hear, “give me a _______ triad,” that’s only asking for a 3-toned chord. Don’t give the composer or music director more than that! After all, in some arrangements, less is better.



    Then next, there is what we call “tetrads.”

    These are chords using four notes. Seventh chords are essentially tetrads.

    • major seventh (e.g. – C major 7: C + E + G + B)
    • minor seventh (e.g. – C minor 7: C + Eb + G + Bb)
    • diminished seventh (e.g. – C diminished 7: C + Eb + Gb + Bbb)
    • augmented seventh (e.g. – C augmented 7: C + E + G# + Bb)



    Chords using five notes are called “pentads.” Yes, that sounds like the pentatonic scale from this lesson (5-tone scale).

    (In fact, there’s such a thing as tritonic and tetratonic scales too! But let’s save that for another lesson.)

    Ninths are a form of pentads.

    For example, C major 9 is C + E + G + B + D. Five notes!

    Again, it’s just a general term for a chord with 5 notes.

    Hexads and Heptads

    And lastly, “hexads” and “heptads” are the names given to 6 and 7-toned chords, respectively.

    An example of a hexad is an eleventh chord and an example of a heptad is a thirteenth chord.


    Other classifications

    I also promised to give you the name of a 2-toned combination, even though its merit as a chord is questionable…

    We call those “dyads.” Others choose to just reference them as “intervals.” Power chords and tritones fall under this category.

    And for extra credit, a “monad” is a single note. The “chromatic scale” comes to mind, which is basically composed of twelve monads.

    So there you have it! A really fact-filled, reference post for today!

    So if you ever hear me referencing any of these, you should now know what they mean!

    Exercise: Let’s try to think of every tetrad we can! I’ll start it off!

    Until next time —

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.


    1 Jermaine

    Dominant 7 chord = tetrad

    2 John

    Diminished 7 chord = TETRAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    3 Benny

    First time posting. Thanks for all the help

    Augmented major 7 chord = tetrads

    4 missie

    minor chord = tetrad

    5 Jermaine

    @Benny: Welcome and thanks for posting!

    @missie: Make sure you’re specific cuz when you just say minor, it’s automatically assumed that you’re talking about a triad (3 tones).

    6 missie

    oops :)

    minor 7 chord = tetrad

    7 Roland

    A Major Minor 7th chord= a tetrad


    A Major 7 chord = tetrad


    A sus 7 = tetrad…?



    11 michel

    Augmented 7 chord = tetrad

    12 Eresmas

    Is there anything like a half-dim7 chord e.g B + D + F + A which would then be a tetrad? Or is it just called half-dim?

    13 MS

    Diminished 7 chord!

    14 Jermaine

    @eresmas: not sure if i understand your question. Any 4-note combination is a tetrad so a half-diminished chord would fall under that category as well!

    15 Eresmas

    I actually wanted to know if the combination should specifically be called half-dim7 or you can just call it half dim and people will understand.

    16 Jermaine

    @Eresmas: Since half diminished is a 7th chord, I guess in an “I just wanna play” fashion, you could leave off the 7 and people should know what you mean (since half diminished triad doesn’t exist). But for clarity’s sake, adding 7 will make things easier on everyone.

    Note: It is also called “minor 7 flat 5” too

    17 Eresmas

    Thanks for the clarification man.

    18 real air jordansasdd for sale

    Wow! This is truly a great source of ideas on creating amazing headlines and good content! This will surely help me a lot in writing my own posts in the future.

    19 vitamin

    Greeting appreciate your writing have a look of mine

    20 Print London

    Hey respect your article take a browse of mine

    21 Lerry

    wow, i love this. you just made me a pro, i can now talk big and make people wonder n also making them want to learn from me. thanks a bunch. i love u, u re the best.

    22 Vicki

    If you play the 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 of the scale together, is that a tetrad?
    Is the 1+ 2 + 3 + 5 a tetrad, or is it a pentad because 2 = 9? (It’s my current favorite chord.)

    23 David

    I also promised to give you the name of a 2-toned combination, even though its merit as a chord is questionabl – yes agree

    Comments on this entry are closed.

    { 1 trackback }

    Previous post:

    Next post: